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Re: Why do we have choirs?

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  • kjlawrence@aol.com
    Dear Stan, Now I understand why you would think of the music of the Russian Orthodox Church as a break from tradition. The good news is that the historical
    Message 1 of 46 , May 16, 2007
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      Dear Stan,

      Now I understand why you would think of the music of the
      Russian Orthodox Church as a break from tradition. The
      good news is that the historical account you're giving is
      not an accurate one.

      Nikon's reforms, bringing the Russian Church into line with
      contemporary Greek customs (and having nothing to do with
      the Catholics), were carried out from 1652 to 1656. In the
      1660s there was a Russian chant reform similar to that of
      the Three Teachers in Greece 150 years later (a reform
      which was accepted by many of the Old Believers). Editions
      of most of the liturgical books containing most of the ancient
      melodies were published by the Moscow Synodal printing office
      beginning in 1772, using a form of staff notation which any of
      us can easily learn to read. These books were reprinted up to
      the time of the Revolution. The ancient melodies were not
      banned or exterminated, and in fact formed the basis for
      the music of the Moscow School (Gardner's second epoch,
      4th period).

      The Ukrainian musical influence you speak of began when
      the Moscow principality took control of Ukraine in 1654.
      Ukrainian singers were highly regarded and were hired to
      sing in important Russian churches. Their largely improvised
      harmonizations in a style still popular among the Carpathians
      was the beginning of a gradual development leading to written
      out choral music.

      Again, this Ukrainian influence was definitely a stylistic
      departure from the earlier Russian domestic polyphony,
      but the latter was the beginning of polyphony in Russia.
      You might recall my attempts to post some sound files
      of this earlier Russian polyphony in this list's file section
      last year.

      Interesting for this discussion--we can learn something about
      the priorities of the Old Believers by reading Nikita Simmons'
      ideas about what is wrong with harmonizations sung by choirs.
      He says that these "had the twofold result of a) excluding the
      general masses of worshippers from participation in the singing,
      and preparing them for passivity, weariness, and even boredom,
      and b) shifted the center of attention from an interior attitude
      of simple liturgical prayer sung by everyone to an external posture--
      that of focusing on external esthetics." This analysis would seem
      to put the Old Believers squarely in opposition to those
      who would only allow the most rigorously trained chanters
      to sing anything in church.

      I'd like to thank you for your willingness to discuss all these matters,
      and for yours and Nancy's fine work. I know that you are indeed
      doing whatever you can to help people to appreciate and assimilate
      our musical inheritance, and are providing music within the tradition
      for those who lack the skills needed to perform Byzantine chant.

      Happy feast day!

      You wrote:
      >Maybe so, but the sudden end came in the 18th Century from the
      >reforms of Peter the Great, who in a few years time, built a new
      >capital in the West and Westernized the culture. He banned the
      >old music and hired Church composers trained in Italy and patterned
      >the music after the Catholics. He and his successors pursued and
      >persecuted the Old Believers until, by the end of the 18th Century,
      >they were almost out of the country. The change was so sudden and
      >complete and the old chants were completely exterminated, that when,
      >in the latter part of the 19th Century a Slavic council sat down to correct
      >the music and install an eight-tone system, no one knew how the old modes
      >sounded, and they came up with an octoechos based largely on the Ukranian
      >form of chant. The reforms of Peter were indeed a sudden end and far
      >from a "borrowing."

      See what's free at http://www.aol.com.
    • dananetherton
      ... (Responding late, sorry) Still assimilating ... could be, could be. At the same time, of course, Nia Vardolos fought off Hollywood attempts to change My
      Message 46 of 46 , Jun 1, 2007
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        --- In greekorthodoxmusic@yahoogroups.com, "Stan Takis" <takistan@...>
        > --- In greekorthodoxmusic@yahoogroups.com, "dananetherton" <dana@>
        > wrote:
        > > One practical benefit has to do with the shortage of skilled
        > > cantors.
        > >
        > > Another is (let's be frank) the opportunity it affords our devoted
        > > ladies to take an active role in the worship of the Church.
        > Dear Dana:
        > True. And let's not forget the assimilation issue. We are still
        > assimilating. The US is overwhelmingly Protestant and Catholic, and
        > there are many in our Orthodox Church who do not see why we cannot
        > be more like them.

        (Responding late, sorry)

        "Still assimilating" ... could be, could be. At the same time, of
        course, Nia Vardolos fought off Hollywood attempts to change "My Big
        Fat Greek Wedding" into something Jewish, or Italian -- because by gum
        she *didn't* want the distinctively *Greek-American* elements in her
        story to be assimilated into the generic "Mediterranean immigrant" story.

        And thanks to the clout that Rita Wilson (producer, and Tom Hanks's
        Greek-American wife -- on whose behalf *he* became Orthodox) had built
        up in Hollywood, she didn't have to.

        And Michael Constantine (for one) could finally *play* a Big Fat Role
        that is in his own ethnic background -- perhaps his 5th "Greek"
        character in a 35+ year career with 164 appearances (according to
        IMDB, <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0176073/>).

        This is consistent with what's happening with other ethnic groups in
        America: the byword is no longer "melting pot", getting melted into
        "Americans"; the byword is "diversity" and "heritage".

        So the assimilation process no longer has to go on to the point where
        visible Greek-ness (and visible Orthodoxy) disappears. The "Greek"
        part of "Greek-American" (and by extension the "Orthodox" part of
        "Greek Orthodox") no longer has to disappear in favor of the
        "American" part.

        Perhaps it's the younger generation (like Nia Vardolos and Rita
        Wilson) that recognizes this, and the older generation that still
        clings to the old model of assimilation?

        But it's true that assimilation has been part of the history. Back
        when I was regularly on Usenet, a cynical Greek-American who also
        regularly posted there asserted that the GOA would be gone in another
        generation or two -- as the young bail out to join the Protestant
        churches, while the old insist on using Greek-and-only-Greek.

        That mindset *can* cripple a parish -- I know an OCA parish in my
        metro area that nearly perished because of it (different ethnic, same

        Perhaps the younger generation -- those members who stick with the
        Church despite these frustrations -- will be the ones to break free of
        the "assimilation" approach to Orthodoxy. That's certainly the age
        range where I see interest in learning Chant. And it's certainly the
        age range where (in my own little parochial patch) I see zero interest
        in joining the choir.

        -- Dana Netherton
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